Shiny floor shows put gloss on outlook for TV3

The group has renewed its deal to show ‘The X Factor’. But what else does its future hold?


The soaps and jungle exploits may be moving channel, but the home production pipeline continues to thicken and the shiny floor shows are going nowhere. That’s the message TV3 gave to advertisers and media agencies yesterday afternoon as it launched its spring schedule, a blend of light entertainment staples and new formats crammed with new faces.

The broadcaster has been putting on its game face ever since UTV announced its soap-stealing deal with ITV Studios, which comes into effect from 2015 and deprives Ballymount of regular audience-grabbers like Coronation Street, Emmerdale and 3e’s I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

Its swagger despite the UTV setback is now backed up with what could be a critical piece of paper: TV3 has just renewed its contract with distributor FremantleMedia giving it the rights to broadcast The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Family Fortunes, Take Me Out, The X Factor USA, American Idol and America’s Got Talent through to 2016.

That’s another three years of big, brash, studio-based extravaganzas – known in the industry as “shiny floor shows” – to rely upon (give or take viewer fatigue) – and oh yes, there’s a new series of Through the Keyhole thrown in for fans of celebrity home-snooping. In a separate deal with distributor NBC/Universal, TV3 has also secured the rights to Downton Abbey for the life of the series, meaning that for however long writer Julian Fellowes packages his superior upstairs-downstairs one-liners into vaguely sensible plots, the resulting drama will be available on TV3.

At the same time, the group is making the highest volume of its own programmes in its history. Under former director of content Ben Frow and his successor Jeff Ford, TV3 pushed up the percentage of indigenous productions on its schedule to 35 per cent. This proportion is now set to reach 50 per cent.

The broadcaster’s presentation to the advertising industry yesterday took place on the set of Keith Barry: Brain Hacker, which has just wrapped filming in the Sony HD Studio and will be on air from January. According to the blurb for the show, Barry, an illusionist-slash-“mentalist”, will take the audience “on a theatrical rollercoaster ride, where they will participate in astounding feats based around mind control”. Sales executives will doubtlessly be familiar with the basic principles of the technique.

If there is one theme that emerges from TV3’s list of new programmes it is that game shows are back in screen fashion. Algorithm, a kind of Mr and Mrs for the social media age, is billed as a “man versus machine” showdown with families appearing in studio to prove how well they know each other, while Pressure Point is a general knowledge quiz with an “attack the opposition” element that may appeal to anyone who misses The Weakest Link and/or Fifteen to One. Finally, Newstalk broadcaster Jonathan McCrea will host The Lie, where contestants are faced with a series of statements in categories such as pop culture and current affairs and compete to win €10,000 on their ability to spot the falsehood.

But like Michael Healy-Rae’s attempts to locate his shoes on At Home with the Healy-Raes, TV3’s ability to thrive in the Irish broadcasting market is not without its challenges.

The group will have to spend a chunk of 2014 sorting out its “early peak” problem – in other words, finding the right replacements for the ITV Studios soaps before they vacate their slots. TV3 recently received 16 pitches for its proposed new soap. But even with the high calibre and strong track record of the production houses that expressed an interest, launching and maintaining a new soap, which demands so much commitment from viewers, remains one of the most difficult things a broadcaster can try to do.

Another key question that remains is whether the current crop of shiny floor shows will lose what’s left of their lustre between now and 2016. They remain relatively radiant. The last series of Britain’s Got Talent attracted an average viewership of 252,400, while The X Factor, though it has faded since the peaks of the Mary Byrne and Jedward era, has still pulled in an average of 396,000 viewers over the course of its present run.

Meanwhile, the slot it decides to give to productions like Brain Hacker, in which it has invested a considerable sum of money, will be an interesting reflection of how aggressive TV3 intends to be in its scheduling wars with RTÉ. It shouldn’t be beyond it to dent the audience of a weakened Late Late Show, for example, through the deployment of novel alternatives.

TV3, a lean-and-keen 15 years old, is making choices now that will affect the kind of adult it ends up being.

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